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At long last, Disney embraces diversity

Voicing Disney’s first African-American princess is a pretty hugedeal for an actress, and Anika Noni Rose is all too aware of it. <p></p>

Voicing Disney’s first African-American princess is a pretty huge deal for an actress, and Anika Noni Rose is all too aware of it.

“The first time I saw her in color, I couldn’t even breathe. I just started to cry,” she says, hand instinctively going to her throat. “Even talking about [it] now, I’m such a wuss.”

To be fair, it really is a big deal. Tiana, the heroine at the center of “The Princess and the Frog,” joins the animation A-List that includes Cinderella, Snow White and Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.”

And while Disney has featured other races — with Jasmine from “Aladdin” or Mulan from, well, “Mulan” — until now there hasn’t been a black Disney heroine.

But as a child watching the films, Rose doesn’t remember noticing the absence of black lead characters. “I didn’t necessarily feel deprived. I was just watching the movies and loving them,” she says. Rose herself is just thrilled to be involved in one of Disney’s most lavish animated musicals.

“This is something that I always dreamed of doing,” she says. “I didn’t dream of being a princess. I could’ve been a dandelion and I would’ve been happy.”

And while the first African-American Disney princess is sure to be viewed as a role model of sorts, Rose is more than happy to dodge that label herself — one of the benefits of voicing an animated character.

“If they want to see Tiana as a role model, I think that’s brilliant because her story is finite,” Rose explains. “She’s not going to turn the corner and fall out and have 20 children. It’s not going to be the type of situation.”

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